Programs offered by the SSA

Once it has been determined that you have a disability and meet medical criteria for adults or the medical criteria for children, then you may qualify for benefits under one (1) of the two (2) programs offered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). These two (2) programs are as follows:

  1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are "insured," which means that you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes. The Social Security Disability Insurance Program (SSDI) pays benefits to you and certain family members if you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes. Social Security work credits are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income. You can earn up to four (4) credits each year. The amount needed for a credit changes from year to year, for example, in 2014, you earn one (1) credit for each $1,200 of wages or self-employment income. When you've earned $4,800, you've earned your four (4) credits for the year.

    The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.

    The rules are as follows:

    • Before age 24--You may qualify if you have six (6) credits earned in the 3-year period ending when your disability starts.
    • Age 24 to 31--You may qualify if you have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the time you become disabled. For example, if you become disabled at age 27, you would need credit for three (3) years of work (12 credits) out of the past six (6) years (between ages 21 and 27).
    • Age 31 or older--In general, you need to have the number of work credits shown in the chart below. Unless you are blind or have low vision, you must have earned at least 20 of the credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.
    Born after 1929, Became Disabled At Age Number of Credits You Need
    31 through 4220
    4422
    4624
    4826
    5028
    5230
    5432
    5634
    5836
    6038
    62 or older40

    You can find additional information about disability benefits in SSA’s Disability Planner.

    Social Security credits are the "building blocks" the SSA uses to find out whether you have the minimum amount of covered work to qualify for each type of Social Security benefits. If you stop working before you have enough credits to qualify for benefits, then your credits will stay on your record. If you return to work later on, you can add more credits so that you can qualify, but no benefits can be paid if you do not have enough credits.

    Credits Are Earned when you work and pay Social Security taxes, then you earn up to a maximum of four (4) "credits" for each year. It is important to note that the way you earn a credit has changed over the years. For example, before 1978, employers reported your earnings every three (3) months and credits were called "quarters of coverage," or QCs, and you received a QC or credit if you earned at least $50 in a 3-month calendar quarter.

    In 1978, however, employers started reporting your earnings just one time a year and, therefore, credits are now based on your total wages and self-employment income during the year, no matter when you did the actual work. For example, you might work all year to earn four (4) credits, or you might earn enough for all four (4) credits in a much shorter length of time.

    In the year 2014, you must earn $1,200 in covered earnings to get one (1) Social Security or Medicare work credit and $4,800 to get the maximum four (4) credits for the year. It is important to note that you do not earn credits for pension payments or for interest or dividends on savings and investments since you do not pay Social Security tax on that kind of income. During your lifetime, you probably will earn more credits than the minimum number you need to be eligible for benefits. These extra credits, however, do not increase your benefit amount.

    It is important to remember that whatever your age is, you must have earned the required number of work credits within a certain period ending with the time you become disabled. If you qualify now but you stop working under Social Security, then you may not continue to meet the disability work requirement in the future.

    Your adult child also may qualify for benefits on your earnings record if he or she has a disability that started before age 22. If an adult is disabled for the adult is the age of 22 years old, the adult could be entitled to a child’s benefit if a parent of the child has died or has started to obtain benefits, either retirement or disability benefits, and the SSA will consider these benefits a child’s benefit since this benefit is payable on the parent’s Social Security earnings record.

    The Adult Child can include a child that has been adopted, or, in some cases, a stepchild, grandchild, or step grandchild—must be unmarried, age 18 or older, and have a disability that started before age 22. For example, a worker starts collecting Social Security retirement benefits at age 62. He has a 38-year old son who has had cerebral palsy, a disability classified under Part B, since birth. The son may then start collecting a disabled "child's" benefit on his father's Social Security record.

    It is not necessary that the adult child ever worked. Benefits are paid based on the parent's earnings record. An adult child must not have substantial earnings, and the amount of earnings the SSA considers "substantial" increases each year. For example, in year 2014, substantial earnings means working and earning more than $1,070 a month.

    Certain expenses the adult child incurs in order to work may be excluded from these earnings. For more information about work and disability, refer to Working While Disabled--How We Can Help. An adult child already receiving Supplemental Social Security Insurance (SSI) benefits should check to see if benefits may be payable on a parent's earnings record since higher benefits might be payable, and entitlement to Medicare may be possible. There is a possibility and a person who has been disabled since they were a child to obtain insurable status based on the child’s own record and then at another time be able to obtain benefits based on the child’s parent’s record, however, if the parent has never worked then no benefits could be paid on the parent’s record.

    At this time you cannot apply for a disabled adult child's benefits online. If you wish to file for benefits, contact Social Security immediately at 1-800-772-1213 to request an appointment. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, then call the TTY number 1-800-325-0778. If you delay, then some potential benefits could be lost so it is important to contact Social Security in a timely manner.

    You can speed up the application process if you complete an Adult Disability Report and have it available at the time of your appointment. If a child is age 18 or older, the SSA will evaluate his or her disability the same way they would evaluate the disability for any adult; they send the application to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) in your state that completes the disability decision for the SSA.

    For detailed information about how the SSA evaluate disability for adults, see Disability Benefits (Publication No. 05-10029). If he or she receives benefits as an adult disabled since childhood, then the benefits generally end if he or she gets married. However, some marriages (for example, to another adult disabled child) are considered protected. The rules vary depending on the situation. Therefore, it is important to contact a Social Security representative at 1-800-772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, then call the TTY number 1-800-325-0778 to find out if the benefits can continue.

    Other requirements to qualify for SSDI

    Special Situations

    Other Things You Need To Know

  2. The other Federal Program that pays benefits upon disability is the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources, and will be discussed under our website page titled Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

If you believe that you or a loved one are eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits and you are just applying for the first time, have been denied and wish to appeal, or simply want more information about your particular facts and circumstances, then please Contact Us as soon as possible for your free legal consultation so that we can assist you in receiving the benefits that you may be entitled to under the Law.